UF scientists making better-tasting tomato juice

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GAINESVILLE, Fla -- Don't like the taste of tomato juice? Scientists at the University of Florida are trying to make you say 'yum!' instead of 'yuck!'

"I don't drink it every day, but I do like tomato juice," said Jim Selph.

"There's nothing about it that's pleasing to me," said Randy Kaufman.

Tomato juice is clearly not for every palette, but scientists at UF are trying to make the juice tastier.

"If you could make it taste like fresh heirloom tomatoes, I'd drink it," Kaufman said.

The problem is tomato juice doesn't really taste like fresh tomatoes so UF scientists did a study where they captured tomato essence which are aroma compounds derived from tomatoes responsible for flavor.

"Part of it [essence] is lost, because of the pasteurization process so anything that needs to be shelf-stable needs to be heat-treated. The process of doing that loses some of those aroma compounds," said Paul Sarnoski, an Assistant Professor at UF's Food Science and Nutrition department.

By returning this 'essence' to tomato juice, scientists are hoping to improve the flavor. The tomato industry currently does not use tomato essence to produce juice, because of different factors, for example: cost. Sarnoski said there isn't a lot of research done in the US on tomato essence.

"If we could go and improve that flavor, make it closer to what people desire, that could possibly improve tomato juice sales," Sarnoski said.

But it doesn't just stop at juice, the essence could also be returned to tomato paste or sauce. Tomato-related processed products saw a nearly 15% increase in sales in 2015 alone which could mean even bigger sales.

"I think it's fantastic. I think it's the kind of research we should be doing for our products," Selph said.

The next step of the study is to put the essence into commercial tomato products to see if the flavor will be significantly better. Sarnoski believes the study will take a year or two to complete.